Drugs and Dictators
“You can do everything with bayonets except sit on them.” -Austrian diplomat Klemens Metternich.
Drug addiction is slavery- slavery that initially, tragically progresses only with the consent of the one becoming enslaved. Each use of an addictive drug forges another link in the slave’s chain. Eventually, the slave enjoys the slavery. The prescription opioid epidemic has made Karl Marx’s famous aphorism obsolete. He said “religion is the opiate of the masses.” Years later, television became the opiate of the masses. Now, opium is the opiate of the masses, in the form of prescription painkillers and heroin. If we are not careful, the mass production and consumption of opiates will create a culture of drug-addicted slaves.
Opioid prescriptions are growing faster than America’s population: The U.S. gained seventy-five million people between 1991 and 2014, but it gained 131 million new opioid prescriptions. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, adressed the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control in 2014. Citing an IMS Health audit, Volkow stated that “prescriptions for opioids (like hydrocodone and oxycodone products) have escalated from around 76 million in 1991 to nearly 207 million in 2013, with the United States their biggest consumer globally, accounting for almost 100 percent of the world total for hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin) and 81 percent for oxycodone (e.g., Percocet).” Volkow concluded that the increase was due to “drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, greater social acceptability for using medications for different purposes, and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies.” Opioids have a high risk of abuse and addiction, and they cause tolerance in their users, meaning regular users must use more and more of the drugs to achieve the same effects. If you buy their product and use it, you will need to buy it again, and you will need to buy more than you did before. It happened with cigarettes; it will happen with opiates, and a population addicted to opiates is even more undesireable than a population addicted to cigarettes.
In his book Food of the Gods, Terrence Mckenna defined a drug as “something that causes unexamined, obsessive, and habitual behavior…this is the kind of life that we are being sold at every level.” When Mckenna wrote that in 1992, he was speaking metaphorically about mass-consumption culture; the prescription opioid epidemic had not begun. But now his words are literally true. We are being sold drugs under the guise of medicine. Insys, a pharmaceutical company, payed kickbacks to doctors who prescribed their flagship drug, Subsys. Subsys is a sublingual spray form of fentanyl, which is one hundred times more potent than morphine. Who would need such a powerful drug other than someone who has developed a high tolerance for morphine? Pharamceutical companies like Insys are little different than drug dealers on the street corner, except they hide behind law and lobbyists.
Opioids cause the release of dopamine, which results in a feeling of pleasure, and it also triggers reward systems usually reserved for real-life-achievments, like eating or sex. When people take opioids in the abscence of serious pain, the reward-system stimulation can lead them to take the drugs repeatedly. The War On Drugs has lifted the opiate-market from the hands of gangsters and placed it in the hands of the pharmaceutical industry. The result of the trillion-dollar, multi-decade war? Institutionalized, state-sanctioned opiate addiction at the hands of corrupt doctors and pharmaceutical companies like Insys. But if you think things can’t get any worse, think again. Opiates are not the most addictive, nor the most dangerous way that the nervous system can be manipulated for nefarious purposes.
Anything that causes the release of dopamine and triggers the brain’s reward-systems has a potential for abuse. The most dangerous and addictive way to release dopamine and trigger the reward systems is direct brain stimulation. Stimulants or other drugs are intracranially administered to the reward pathways- stimulants, for example, are injected directly into the brain.
Dr. Roy A. Wise, chief of behavioral neuroscience at the National Instute on Drug Abuse, says, “Rats and monkeys have been shown to work in a compulsive manner to achieve intravenous injections of stimulants, and when access to the drugs is not limited, they will self-administer the drugs to the point of severe weight loss and death….What begins as a tentative response tendency [in the rats and monkeys] becomes a compulsive habit very quickly.”
Direct brain stimulation hijacks the monkey’s desires and drives almost immediately. Even the drive to survive and procreate, the most fundamental drive of life, is enslaved and crushed beneath the all-powerful coersion of direct brain stimulation.
The scary question is this: are humans susceptible to the immediate addiction and life-denying allure of direct brain stimulation? And if we are, when will this weakness be used against us? When, not if: our weaknesses are always used against us. Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, said, “Anybody who has watched the behavior of rats with electrodes planted in different centers [of the brain] must come away from this experience with the most extraordinary doubts about what on Earth is in store for us if ever this is got hold of by a dictator.”
Huxley gave a speech at the University of California at Berkeley in 1962, where he defined the Ultimate Revolution: unlike previous dictatorial revolutions (Fascism, Stalinism, etc.), the Ultimate Revolution will not control the masses with terrorism. “The…dictatorships of the future,” will not use terrorism, “not because of any humanitarian qualms of the dictators, but because…if you can get people to consent to their state of affairs, then you are likely to have a much more stable, lasting society than you would if you were relying wholely on clubs and firing squads.” But what is the state of affairs that these future dictators will get their subjects to consent to? The Ultimate Revolution will “get people to love their servitude.” Huxley predicted that the dictators will use drugs and conditioning to make their citizens “enjoy a state of affairs that by any decent standard they ought not to enjoy- the enjoynment of servitude.”
The opioid epidemic suffocating North America reveals that we are more vulnerable than ever to Huxleyian enslavement- that is slavery with the consent of the enslaved. Imagine an electrode planted in your brain that directly stimulates your reward-center. Why did you have it installed? Maybe your new employer encouraged you to have it installed. Or maybe you installed it for the same reason anyone tries a new pleasurable diversion- curiosity. You become addicted after a few hits. You hit it again and again- nothing else in life matters anymore. Even sex with your beloved is not as good, not as wondrous, not as rapturously rewarding and right as your electrode. What do you care if you if you have no friends, no family, and your job is a dull, drudging daily grind? When you press your button and stimulate your brain, you are in the highest heaven known to man. But then one day you press the button that sends you to heaven- and nothing happens. You panic. The hell you really live in emerges in stark relief. You’ll do anything to escape, to return to heaven, anything for another hit. Anything. Who controls your electrode?